Half of the population will experience about 450 periods from the first menstruation to menopause. On average, menstruation lasts over 40 years, from 12 to 52 years old. In the course of their lives, each menstruating person uses an average of around 14,000 disposable tampons and pads. But who has ever seriously thought about the impact of disposable products on their budget or the environment?

How much do we actually spend on menstrual products?

Since there are no official studies in Germany on how much a person spends on menstrual products in their life, we will quickly give you a simple calculation. In order to not to make the calculation too complicated, we will simply assume five menstrual days per cycle and consider only the most necessary additional costs. If only tampons and panty liners are used, the costs for the following calculation amount to around 6.60 $ per cycle:

20 tampons x 0,22 $ per piece = 4,40 $
10 pantyliners x 0,22 $ per piece = 2,20 $

4,40 $ for tampons + 2,20 $ for pantyliners = 6,60 $ per cycle
450 periods x 6,60 $ per cycle = 2.970,00 $ lifetime

In order to cover the basic annual need for disposable menstrual products, a menstruating person spends an average of about 80.00 $. With a total of 450 periods in life, the costs for tampons and panty liners are around 3,000 $. This includes neither pads nor other menstrual prodcuts. Also pain medicine or hot-water bottles are not included in this calculation. From an economic point of view, the disposable menstrual products used every month are therefore a lucrative business for manufacturers. This means that the development and marketing of reusable and sustainable menstrual products is not attractive for many large companies and therefore receives little media attention. The cultural taboos on menstruation also contribute to the success of the disposable menstrual product industry.
Meaning that periods are pragmatically also an expense factor. However, there are good news here: In Germany menstrual products will only be taxed at the simple rate of 7% from 2020 onwards. Currently, the maximum rate of 19% VAT is levied on menstrual products. Next year it will show whether manufacturers will pass the tax reduction on to consumers or conceal the actual price change through deceptive packaging and other dubious procedures.

Menstruation as a monthly waste production

A global problem in this context is the environmental impact caused by the regular use of disposable products, some of which are chemically treated. Starting with cotton, for example. The cultivation and transport of cotton consume valuable resources such as water, fuel and human labour. Only to end up in the garbage after only a few hours of use. In Germany, all menstruating people produce more than 20,000 tons of waste with disposable products in the course of their lives. 20,000 tons correspond to 20 million kilos of waste. In terms of quantity – and these are only the menstrual products – these are 170,000 bathtubs filled with waste. Let us be more aware of the products that come into contact with our bodies and their impact on the environment.
The European Commission was discussing a ban on disposable menstrual products. However, this could not be adopted when the law to reduce the use of disposable plastic products was passed. The reason for this is that disposble menstrual products belong to those items where there are none or only insufficient alternatives accesible.

Which sustainable menstrual products do already exist?

There are also environmentally friendly and reusable options out there. These include, for example, menstrual cups, fabric pads, natural sponges, leak-proof underwear or free bleeding, where no products are needed at all. The same alternatives that make menstruation more sustainable for wealthy people, often make it more bearable for people in poorer countries.
But only those who know alternative products can use them for years to come and benefit from their advantages. Sustainable menstrual items are often more expensive to buy than conventional disposable products. Over time, however, reusable alternatives can save money. Access to menstrual products is therefore no longer directly linked to a person’s financial situation. It is time to develop sustainable menstrual products and bring them into the mainstream at reasonable prices!

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Founder Vulvani | britta@vulvani.com | Website | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-founder of Vulvani. She loves researching, writing and designing new articles or innovative educational concepts about menstruation all day long. When she is not travelling the world, she enjoys spending time with her loved ones in the beautiful city of Hamburg in Germany.